AJFF Review: “Lore” (****½)

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Saskia Rosendahl stars in “Lore”

Nele Trebs, one of the young stars of “Lore,” was on hand for the film’s east coast premiere last week at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Visiting the United States for the first time, the young actress was as astute and well-spoken as I imagined she would be after watching her thoughtful performance in this beautiful film. When asked about the difference between working with male and female directors– such as “Lore” director Cate Shortland, Trebs’ delightful response rendered the question almost irrelevant. “Directors don’t differentiate themselves from one another based on their gender, but through their artistic vision.” And it is quite the artistic vision that Shortland showcases here. “Lore” is an undeniably beautiful film about an undeniably brutal piece of history.

Nazis and Nazi sympathizers are seldom protagonists in World War II films. After losing hope of ever seeing her SS officer father and mother again, Lore hauls her four young siblings from the Black Forest in southern Germany to their grandmother’s home near Hamburg, along Germany’s northern coast. As though this journey wasn’t tough enough– pawning her mother’s jewelry for stale food and trying to keep mites from nesting in their dirty clothing– Lore is forced to reconcile the beliefs and prejudices she was fed by her now absent parents. When a Jewish vagrant attaches himself to their caravan, providing them with food and shelter, an internal battle rages within Lore that coincides with her teenage sexual awakening.

Saskia Rosendahl, as the titular character, is probably the most beautiful Nazi protagonist to ever carry a film, giving a star-making performance. Not far behind, however, are Kai-Peter Malina and Nele Trebs as Thomas and Liesel, respectively. The complexities and fragments of grace captured in these three performances are especially of note amidst the semi-abstract nature of the storytelling. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, letting the colors and textures of the journey speak the loudest.

A lush cinematic experience, Shortland furnishes each frame with the mossy greens, deep teals and royal blues that only a burgeoning springtime can produce. Whether through the scattering seeds of a dandelion, the tangles of Lore’s wet hair or the sun beams through the coniferous forest– the textures on display are as casual as they are beautiful. This simplistic elegance is a contrast to the pomp and circumstance found in the photography of Terrance Malick, who incorporates similar visual techniques. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw displays a tremendous talent.

From the breathless opening moments with a countdown setting a tone of uncertainty and helplessness, “Lore” is both thought-provoking and beautiful. As Australia’s official submission for the foreign language Oscar, I’m surprised “Lore” didn’t make the final list of nominees. 

4.5 out of 5 stars.
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